Next week, September 10, is World Suicide Prevention Day as designated by the World Health Organization (WHO). I've written about suicide a few times on this blog - it's a topic that too many people would prefer to avoid. If we don't talk about it, acknowledge it, then it isn't really a problem, right?
According to the WHO, every 40 seconds, there is one death to suicide somewhere in the world, one million people each year. In 2005, my brother was one of those 1 million people. He was only 35 years old. "The number of lives lost through suicide exceeds the number of deaths due to homicide and war combined," says a WHO fact sheet. It is one of the leading causes of death among young people. These numbers are just the successful suicides, not the attempted ones.
Thousands of people are dying each day because something has broken inside them. In many cases, with the right resources, what was broken could have been fixed. You may want to read this blog post I wrote in 2007. I think it's pretty relevant still today: Suicide, not a disease, so no walkathons, ribbons, or research race.
Too many people have opinions about suicide. They may say that those who choose to die are cowards, unable to man-up and face the world. Others say that they are to be pitied. Others get angry at the person who died, because of the pain they left behind, feeling that the dead person took the easy way out. After my brother died, I was speaking to a priest who was president of the high school my sons attended at the time. As a Catholic, I know what the Church says about suicide. The priest asked if I wanted him to say a prayer at JP's grave. When I said something about the Church's view of suicide, this older man, well beyond retirement age, got angry and said, "Anyone who takes his life is ill. He died of an illness and that is not to be condemned in any way." I've never forgotten his words. Sadly, he died himself, suddenly, before he could say that prayer. But as someone who is not really religious, I took a lot of comfort from his words. Here was someone who understood.
How can you help reduce the suicide rate? Acknowledge that it happens. Talk about it. Don't dismiss the topic if it comes up. It may be unpleasant, but it's important. Often, when people find out that I have a brother who died young, they are shocked that I will tell him that he committed suicide. They aren't so much shocked about the suicide itself, but that I will openly say it. Why? Because it's an uncomfortable reminder that this occurs, even to people they know. But it has to be said. It wasn't all that long ago that the words "breast cancer" were whispered. Why should "suicide" be whispered?
The WHO offers suggestions on how you can help fight the stigma of mental illness and the risk of suicide. If you can do only one thing, you've done something important and may save a life.
On September 10, at 8 pm, please consider joining us in lighting a candle of hope.